Mountain Biking in the Cardamoms

cardamom-waterfallChi Phat, a small village on the Preak Piphot River, is a former hotspot of poaching and illegal logging, now it is a hub of environmentally-friendly adventure activities.

Developed by Community Based Ecotourism (CBET), these projects aim to provide villagers with economically and ecologically sustainable income opportunities from tourism and help them protect the biodiversity and natural resources of their region against illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and land encroachment, while providing tourists with a unique green adventure in some rarely visited rural villages in the Southern Cardamoms.

Attractions at Chi Phat

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Around Chi Phat is mainland South East Asia’s largest remaining tract of rainforest situated directly in the heart of the Cardamom Mountains. There is a lot of fascinating nature at Chi Phat, including mountains, waterfalls, rivers, evergreen forests, low land swamps and Malaluka swamps. Lonely Planet named the area, known also as the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, among the World’s Top 10 Regions for 2010.

Thanks to the good network of forest trails at Chi Phat tourists get the chance to watch quite a huge diversity of wildlife and birds. Monkeys, hornbills and other rainforest creatures can often be seen along the banks of Stung Proat, an unlogged tributary of the Preak Piphot River accessible by boat.

In addition to that, tourists can also visit a beautiful village full of warm, open people and see cultural artifacts such as burial jars and wooden coffins. Activities range from single and multi day mountain biking and trekking and traditional boat trips, to forest camping, wildlife and bird watching and village explorations.

Be prepared though if you want to do a multiple days tour through the Cardamom Mountains. A night in the jungle can be nerve-wracking, no matter how tightly your hammock is zipped. The forest pulses with the grunts of wild pigs, the slithering of snakes and ghostly calls from the treetops.

How to get there?

Chi Phat is a remote site and is not easily reached. It takes approximately four hours to reach Andoung Toeuk, from Phnom Penh, or a little over one hour from Koh Kong Town. Various forms of transport can be taken from Andoung Toeuk to Chi Phat, which include: wooden boat ($35; max. 20 people); speedboat ($50; max. 7 people); or, public boat ($2.5). Travelers can return to Andoung Toeuk through the same modes of transport or by taking a motor taxi ($7 with the CBET Motor Taxi group).

Cardamoms under threat

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Spreading over some 2 million hectares (5 million acres) the Cardamom Mountains contain a startling biodiversity, including some 250 bird species, half of those recorded in Cambodia. Rare species such as Malayan sun bears, Indochinese tigers, pileated gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles inhabit the region. The largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, numbering about a hundred individuals, also roams this region.

The tension between economic development and the sustainable management of forests, wildlife, and natural resources in the rural and protected areas of Southeast Asia is a momentous challenge. The next few years will be critical in determining the future of the Cardamom Mountains.

At this moment there are plans to build a titanium mine near Chi Phat. If built, the titanium mine will stretch some 15,000 to 20,000 hectares (37,000 to 50,000 acres) of the Cardamom Mountains. Construction of the pit will require deforestation and burial of vast amounts of waste; such waste often results in the destruction or pollution of important waterways.

Wildlife Alliance says the mine would particularly imperil freshwater species, such as the Siamese crocodile, which is listed as Critically Endangered. In addition, the mine will sit right in the middle of an elephant migration route, endangering a quarter of Cambodia’s wild elephants.

Conservationists fear that if this titanium mine is approved it will open the door to a variety of industrial projects in the region ultimately devastating one of Southeast Asia’s last pristine forests. The Phnom Penh Post reports that if the titanium mine is successfully approved, China is planning three to four more mines covering 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) in the Cardamom Mountains.

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